This Good Friday liturgy has something of a contemplative tone to it. It is subdued, stately, measured in its rubrics and structure. It is as if the Church is simply bidding us to quiet our hearts and look upon the Lord in his Passion and Death. That is what ‘contemplative’ means – to simply gaze on him – ‘they shall look upon the one they have pierced’.
My own contemplation of this liturgy in past years has mostly revolved around either the proclamation of the Passion according to St. John which we just heard, or around the rite of the veneration of the Cross. To hear what Christ has done, and to fall down before him in veneration and humble gratitude – thank you, Jesus, thank you so much. We adore you. Those have always felt like the two tent poles of this liturgy for me, anyhow.
But this year my eyes and my heart have been drawn to the part of the liturgy that falls between these two, namely the lengthy Solemn Intercessions the Church offers to Christ in this liturgy. Perhaps it is because like all of us I am so aware of the deep needs of the world right now and the sufferings of so many people in so many countries for so many different reasons, but this year, at least for me, the heart of the service has shifted to these solemn intercessions.
And this week in poustinia as I pondered that aspect of this liturgy, which I have to admit I’ve never given much thought to in the past, a phrase kept going through my mind which seems both oddly appropriate and wildly inappropriate to what we’re doing here. And it is that ‘Well, we’ve got him where we want him – he can’t get away from us now!’ We’ve got him pinned down, so to speak, and so we pour out our hearts before this Lord who is suspended before our eyes, minds, and hearts, and we tell him just about everything we need to tell him – everyone in the Church, everyone in the world who needs his help. He can’t get away from us -we’ve got him where we want him.
And so I have been meditating on that all week – the God who is in our clutches, so to speak, and who we can therefore put our whole need and the need of all before Him. But of course that’s not quite right, either. Because the Lord did not fall into our hands – He put himself there. It’s not that we have Jesus where we want Him – Jesus is exactly where He wants to be, on the Cross, on the altar, in this liturgy.
And so we have this Lord who is like this (cruciform), hands extended, fixed in this posture not only, I would say, for three hours on the cross but always. Because this is not only the position of Christ on the Cross, not only the position of a man extended cruelly on two pieces of wood to the point of death. This is the stance of God the Father towards all His creation, always. Our Father God stands before us, if we had eyes to see, with arms fully extended to welcome, to embrace, to take us into His heart, to receive from us all we are, all we hold, all we carry, all the outpouring of our hearts. The Son can do nothing of His own accord, He can do only what He sees His Father doing – the Father is not crucified for us, but He is laid wide open for the whole human race made in His image to come before and to pour out our hearts to Him.
And so… contemplation. We have heard the story of God’s great love for us, demonstrated irrefutably in His Son’s suffering and death for us. We will in a few minutes come before Him to bow down and worship, adore and venerate, and a few minutes after that the Lord Himself will give us his body as our food of immortality. But now we will pour out our own hearts, our needs, the needs of all our troubled world and all its sorrows, knowing that we have him where we want him, and that He has us where He wants us, standing before Him in faith and love to offer Him this act of worship, thanksgiving and supplication, and in that enter deeply, deeply, deeply into the heart of God, the heart of the Father, the life of the Trinity.